Are you more hungry when you train more? For most people, the answer is Yes. But this doesn’t have to be a problem, even if weight loss is one of your goals.
If you start exercising more, you’ll probably notice an increased appetite. Some people don’t like this change, and even wonder if eating more will “undo” the benefits of their exercise. The fact is, if you are more active you need to eat more. That’s how movement and food work. Choosing healthy, whole foods is the key. There is a surprising benefit to this: eating more total (healthy) food, means more total health-promoting nutrients in you.
Yes, more food means taking in more calories, which you may be concerned about burning off. But exercise is not just about burning calories. That is only one benefit and ignores all the others: improved mood, denser bones, better blood sugar control, better balance and coordination, better range of motion, neuro-generation, stronger immune system, etc.
It’s true that you burn calories when you train. A bigger factor is at work though, which is increased metabolism while recovering from exercise, especially higher intensity and strength-based exercise. If you incorporate HIIT and strength training into your workouts, you will likely be extra hungry afterward. This is a good thing! When you eat more after these heavy training days (even the day after), you are helping your body recover and get more athletic and stronger. Over time, regular training and (very) healthy eating tends to reduce your body fat naturally.
If you increase your activity level but don’t increase your food intake, you might actually be working against yourself and may see fewer benefits from all that hard work.
The key is to eat lots of health-promoting food. Under-eating can lead to binging on less healthy food later. In my 10 years as a trainer and health coach, I’ve noticed that this is actually very common and quite problematic. So it’s definitely better to eat plenty of healthy food when you are hungry and not try to overly restrict your eating in an attempt to lose weight.
If you’re upping your training load, it might be time to update your snack and meal plans to reflect higher calorie needs! As long as the food is mostly (90%+) whole plant foods, you are unlikely to gain body fat as a result of eating more. Just remember this: professional athletes eat a huge quantity of food and yet stay lean, sometimes incredibly so. Food and training go hand-in-hand.
If you’re looking for calorically-dense, healthy food, try eating more of these: beans and lentils, dried dates and figs, raw nuts and seeds, whole grains such as oatmeal and quinoa, and starchy root vegetables such as sweet potatoes.
If weight loss is your primary goal, focus more on plant foods that are high in nutrients and low in calories: green vegetables, beans and lentils, and fresh fruit.
Eating enough in response to your new level of hunger may just mean incorporating more of the above foods in your meals, or slightly increasing the portion sizes of healthy foods you already eat.
Remember: whole food = nutrients = health. You don’t have to fear eating when you are hungry, so long as your food choices are in-line with healthy nutrition principles.